GAZA STRIP: Israeli warplanes pounded the northern Gaza strip for a second day on Wednesday in a fierce assault that has shattered weeks of comparative calm, and Israel said it was moving forward with plans for an all-out assault on Rafah in the south.

The renewed attacks came after the US Congress approved $13 billion in military aid for Tel Aviv.

Israeli Foreign Minister Israel Katz said the Senate’s approval of the aid package already passed by the House of Representatives sent a “strong message to all our enemies” in a post on social media platform X.

Even though Western countries, including the United States, have pleaded with it to hold back from attacking the city on Gaza’s southern edge, aspokesperson for PM Benjamin Netanyahu’s government said Israel was “moving ahead” with its plans for a ground operation on Rafah, but gave no timeline.

US-Israeli relations have been strained by Israel’s conduct of the war in Gaza and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s determination to send troops into the southern Gazan city of Rafah, where 1.5 million people are sheltering, many in makeshift encampments.

79 Palestinians killed, 86 wounded by strikes in a single day

Early on Wednesday, hospital and security sources in Gaza reported Israeli air strikes in Rafah, as well as the central Nuseirat refugee camp.

An AFP correspondent and witnesses also reported heavy bombardment of several areas of northern Gaza during the night, while Israeli military said its aircraft “struck over 50 targets” over the previous 24 hours.

Nowhere to go

Displaced people sheltering in Rafah are weighing whether to flee again.

Tamer Al-Burai, who fled from Gaza City and is now living in Rafah in a cluster of tents with seven households of extended family, said the entire group was heading for the coast of Khan Younis to the north to try to find a new spot “since Israel sounds more serious in its threats this time”.

At the opposite end of the Gaza Strip, the city of Beit Lahiya came under massive shelling for a second day on Wednesday, a day after the Israeli military ordered residents out of four districts declared a “dangerous combat zone”.

The war, now in its seventh month, has killed more than 34,000 Palestinians, according to Gaza health authorities, who say thousands more are feared buried in rubble. The offensive has laid to waste much of the enclave, displacing most of its 2.3 million people and creating a humanitarian crisis.

In the past 24 hours, Israeli strikes have killed at least 79 Palestinians and wounded 86, the Gaza Health Ministry said.

Residents in the north, many of whom have started to return to homes abandoned in the first phase of the war, described some of the most intense bombing since the war’s early weeks.

“We don’t know why this is all happening. Is it because we returned home and we finally got some aid through after months of starvation, and the Israelis didn’t like that?” said Mohammad Jamal, 29, a resident of Gaza City, near Zeitoun, one of Gaza’s oldest suburbs.

“It is as if the war started again. As if it is just happening, they burnt up the place,” he told Reuters via a chat app.

Ismail al-Thawabta, head of the Hamas government media office, said an invasion would be a “crime” and that central Gaza and Khan Yunis “cannot accommodate the numbers of displaced people in Rafah”.

Medics said an Israeli air strike against a group of people in Nasser Street in the heart of Gaza City had killed three people and wounded others. Palestinian journalist Amena Hmaid and one of her children were killed in an Israeli air strike on Gaza City’s Beach refugee camp, her husband said.

Published in Dawn, April 25th, 2024

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